High court judge Owen Tagu has struck off the court roll, on a technicality, an urgent appeal filed by Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) to stop coal mining in Hwange National Park.
In his judgment Tagu, struck of the court roll a case where a Hwange resident and ZELA were seeking an order compelling Chinese miner Zhongxin Mining Group Tongmao Coal Company (Pvt) Ltd to stop its controversial mining operations inside the Hwange National Park.
Tagu said the case was struck off because the applicants erred by failing to jointly sue President Emmerson Mnangagwa, tourism minister Mangaliso Ndlovu and Zimbabwe Parks, pouring cold water on efforts by environmentalists to save the park from a predatory mining arrangement.
“Having considered the papers filed of record, it would seem while the necessary paperwork was done, some appear to have been done after the special grant was issued.
“While the matter on the face of it appears urgent on that basis, the application still is improperly before the court because the relevant parties were not citied and there are material disputes of facts.
“I have been asked to dismiss the application. However, I feel the appropriate action at this stage is to strike the matter off the roll of urgent matters in view of non-citations of relevant parties and the existence of material dispute of facts,” ruled Justice Tagu.
ZELA said this was not the end of the court challenge of the retrogressive development to mine coal, a substance that has fallen out of favor internationally for its environmental harm, and said the fight to save the environment has been invigorated.
“The campaign to protect and conserve biodiversity does not end here but rather it has been reignited,” said ZELA.
It had previously expressed concern over delays in releasing judgment for such an urgent appeal, filed on September 6 following public outcry over the mining developments which pose an acute risk of irreversible ecological degradation to a national park with symbolic significance.
“The court has indicated that it has not yet finished writing the judgment and most probably it will be ready tomorrow by 2pm.
“This has a chilling effect on the urgency of the matter considering that we filed the case on the 6th of September,” said ZELA in an update.
State-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Zhongxin Mining Group Tongmao Coal Company which has already started operations, Minister of Mines and Mineral Development and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) are the four respondents.
“The issuance of the special grant in February 2019 before environmental impact assessment is in violation of section 97 of the Environmental Management Act,” ZELA and Chima argued.
Hwange National park is home to scores of mammal species, of which 19 are large herbivores and eight large carnivores, and 400 bird species and an elephant population of about 44,000m being the most notable of the species.
There has been a public outcry from environmentalists, civil society organisations and the community over the licensing of a coal miner inside the Hwange National Park as a continuation of the catastrophic decisions by government.
ZELA argues the Mines and Minerals Development erred in awarding the special grant and violated the country’s laws by failing to first consult the Ministry of Environment, Climate change, Tourism and Hospitality, for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate.
“The upending of the legislative process entailed failure to provide interested and or affected persons an opportunity to participate in the administrative decision making. As a result the decision makers failed to avail themselves of the benefit of all the relevant factors and considerations.
“Authorisation of, and commencement of, mining in a protected national park is in breach of the constitutional duty on all respondents to prevent ecological degradation and promote conservation in terms of section 73(b) of the constitution of Zimbabwe,” reads part of the application.
There are fears that mining activities will disturb the ecosystem and drive animals to other parts of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area – namely Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. This would negatively affect the tourism sector and environment
Meanwhile government has responded by banning all mining activities in national parks following a public backlash over its decisions to grant the mining licenses in the first place, while the Chinese embassy has accepted government’s decision.